Intelligibility and the CAPE: Combatting Anti-psychologism about Explanation

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Jonathan Waskan
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Much of the philosophical discussion of explanations has centered around two broad conceptions of what sorts of ‘things’ explanations are – namely, the descriptive and ontic conceptions. Defenders of each argue that scientific psychology has at best little to contribute to the study of explanations. These anti-psychologistic arguments come in two main varieties, the metaphysical and the epistemic. Both varieties trace back to Hempel (1965) and recur in the more recent writings of prominent mechanists (e.g., Salmon 1984; Craver 2007). The metaphysical arguments attempt to combat psychologism about explanation by doubly dissociating explanations themselves from the commonly associated phenomenology of explanation (CAPE) (e.g., feelings of understanding how or why or of insight, confidence, satisfaction, or empathic familiarity). The epistemic arguments attempt to combat psychologism by doubly dissociating the good-making features of explanations from the CAPE. I focus on the metaphysical arguments here, for only they directly concern the nature of, as opposed to the evaluation conditions for, explanations. The metaphysical arguments are all shown to equivocate over ‘explanation’, and thus they are no threat to the proposal that sometimes explanations just are psychological events. Such arguments do, nonetheless, gesture towards something important – namely, that the CAPE is neither necessary nor sufficient for explanation in any sense. Similar considerations lead another latter-day mechanist to conclude that no phenomenology of any sort is essential for explanation (Trout 2002, 2007). What all of these thinkers overlook, however, is that there is another important phenomenological correlate of explanation – namely, finding a happening intelligible or understanding how or why-possibly (Machamer, Darden, & Craver 2000; Waskan 2006; Machamer unpublished manuscript) – and it may well be of the very essence of explanation, at least in the psychological sense. I propose a psychomechanistic theory of intelligibility that accounts for how we can, through finite means, make boundless, endlessly qualified inferences about the implications of our explanations. In closing I note that, although finding a happening intelligible does sometimes engender an unjustified confidence in correctness, we should not overlook how attaining this state does at least put us in a kind of epistemic base camp. I also hint at how intelligibility could turn out to be the ultimate source of the descriptive and ontic conceptions of explanation.

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